By Arielle Jennings
We all want students to think for themselves, take responsibility for their learning and growth, and have a strong sense of identity and well-being. In today’s increasingly test-driven and highly-pressurised systems, it can be hard to find the time to cultivate a learning environment that promotes these outcomes.
Last week, I completed a training course on coaching in education. By the end of this course, I was convinced that we should put coaching at the heart of education. Coaching has the potential to create an environment that promotes the learning environment described above. Let me explain.
Coaching can occur both in a one-on-one environment like a tutoring situation or a group environment like in a classroom or on a sports pitch. Whatever the case, there are a set of assumptions that underpin a coaching relationship. The first assumption is that pupils have worth and the ability to make their own choices about what they value and how they will live their life. If we truly trust them to do this and give them the space to explore what it is they care about, they will end up making decisions that are right for them. The second assumption coaches adopt is the ‘ask not tell’ rule. In order to show pupils that we do believe they can be in control of their decisions, we have to constantly ask them to come up with their own ideas and make decisions for themselves, rather than influencing or telling them what they should do and how they should do it.
When presented with these first two assumptions, I was floored by how often I doubt my students and don’t fully embrace the idea that they are capable and can make decisions for themselves, often stepping in to do things for them. Embodying these two assumptions, I think, is the hardest part of coaching.
In practice, coaching looks a lot like a conversation that is very one-sided in terms of favouring the pupil, or “coachee”. The coach acts as a listener, with strong active listening skills at the heart of their practice. Through a series of non-leading questions, the coach invites the pupil to take the reins and identify problems they might face and come up with solutions to those problems. Questions that start with ‘what’ and ‘how’ tend to be more open than those that start with ‘why’ or ‘is’. Coaches don’t give answers, but rather pick up on things that particularly resonate with their coachee and ask the coachee to elaborate or to focus on those things. A pupil might report, for instance that they hate English lessons. The coach will continue to question and listen to the student to discover the root of their feelings about these lessons, holding the student accountable to explore their opinion about English rather than taking it at face value. This often reveals a larger, or different, conflict that can be addressed.
Coaching is not just about exploring the intricacies of challenges pupils face. The coach must also engage the coachee in a goal setting process, asking the coachee to set realistic goals to solve or begin to solve their issue. This is because through the coaching process the pupil is allowed to identify an issue and come up with a solution all on their own, all of a sudden the buy-in for actually carrying out the goal is significantly higher than if you had told that student what to do.
Coaching is not just about getting pupils to make goals and then carry them out – although this aspect of it is very useful in an academic setting. It is so much more than that. It is about sending consistent messages to young people that they have power over their lives and are in control of making change for the better if they work hard at it and take responsibility. They are no longer told that the teacher holds all the power, answers and knowledge, but instead, that they, the young person, are the bearers of them. This can sometimes be scary for them, but ultimately, it builds resilience, self-worth and a person who thinks for themselves.
I highly recommend those in education, parents, or really anyone who interacts with others, to take a look at the ethos of coaching and find ways to adopt it into their own practice. Putting coaching at the heart of education could surely do a lot of good in promoting the next generation of intelligent and engaged young people.